Martina Kaller | Chewing Gum and War

Thu February 22nd 2024, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Encina Hall 2nd floor, William J. Perry Conference Room

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Chewing gum is neither food nor drug. Nevertheless, it was administered to American troops as a drug substitute during the two world wars of the 20th century. Journalists and marketing strategists referred to it as "fuel for fighters." The supply lists of the US-QMC classified gum as "ammunition." Chewing gum is considered an effective thirst quencher. So, it became indispensable in soldiers' rations. The official war strategies declared that the drinking water supply, especially at the front, was more costly and time-consuming than providing the troops with sufficient chewing gum.

Chewing gum would not have become a mass-product without the Caste War (1847–1915) in South-Eastern Mexico: Maya people resisting the outdated feudal laws of debt bondage retreated into the Yucatan rainforests to defy the Hispanic landholders in the arid zones of the peninsula. They extracted Chicel from trees growing wildly in their area. They smuggled this raw material of chewing gum through today’s Belize for weapons and ammunition to defend their almost 50 years of freedom. Thus, Chile ended up in the US mass production via loopholes in, at that time, British Honduras, which served as an outpost of British strategic and trade interests in North America on the Central American mainland. As a consequence of WWI and WWII, American troops became squatters from Europe to Asia. They gave away chewing gum as a gesture of friendship to the civilian population, paving the way for the later global market leader Wrigley. The innovative perspective of this research allows an understanding of the globally intertwined history of chewing gum as a war story by decentering fragmented local and national historiography.

Co-sponsored by the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) and partially funded by Stanford Global Studies’ Oceanic Imaginaries initiative

Martina Kaller is a professor of global history with a background in Latin American studies and is currently a Visiting Scholar at FSI. She has researched in Mexico, Guatemala, the United States, and several European countries. As a guest professor, Kaller has taught at Stanford University (Austrian chair), Sorbonne, and Science Po, Paris. She served for two decades on the board of and later as head of an EU-funded international Master’s program in Global Studies and five years as the president of the permanent committee of the International Congress of Americanists (ICA). Her primary research focuses are on global food history and the History of Latin America 19/20th century. She has worked extensively on the history of international development with particular attention to Mexico and Central America (two books and 27 journal and book contributions). 

Kaller (Dr. Habil) is an Associate Professor of Modern History at the Department of of History at the University of Vienna. She has various ongoing research projects on global food history and the long-term impact of political and economic autonomy of indigenous people, comparing cases in Latin America, Europe, and Canada. Her books and book chapters have been published or are forthcoming at Palgrave McMillan, Routledge, Global South Press, Bloomsbury, et al.

*If you need any disability-related accommodation, please contact Shannon Johnson at sj1874 [at] (sj1874[at]stanford[dot]edu). Requests should be made by February 15, 2024.